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Enforcing Sustainable Pace at the micro-level

Sustainable Pace is one of the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

For the last few years I’ve been using an app called Time Out to make sure I take regular breaks. It runs in the background and throws a “micro break” about every ten minutes—just look away from the screen for ten seconds and rest your eyes—and a “regular break” about every hour or two, reminding you to get up and walk around for a few minutes. To be honest, the app gets a little annoying (especially when you’re pair-programming, collaborating with others, or recording screencasts), but its worth it. Whenever I stop using the app, eyestrain comes back after a day or two.


Here’s how I set up my Time Out:

Pro tips:

  • Set the “Micro Break” (every 10m) with yellow background, fade in immediately, last for 10s. (this is to remind you to look in the distance to rest your eyes). Disable all snooze buttons for the Micro Break.
  • Set the “Regular Break” (every 55m or 85m) with at red background, fade in immediately, last for ~4m. I like to set the frequency + duration to != 60m, so that my breaks go out of phase w/ the clock. Disable all snooze buttons except “postpone 5m”. Time Out is great, but it requires discipline. Once you start hitting ‘snooze’, you lose respect for your breaks and it’s all over—Time Out turns into an annoyance rather than an aid.

Our bodies were built for dodging saber-toothed tigers, not for working at a computer in a climate-controlled office. Download and set up Time Out; chances are good you’ve got many more years ahead of typing and using screens, and it’s important to take care of your body.

What tools do you use to stay healthy at work?


UPDATE: I just found a new pane in the Time Out preferences which allows you to specify apps which should never allow Time Out to launch a break. If you’ve ever been interrupted in the middle of recording a screencast, you’ll know why this is a lifesaver.

Time Out exclusion pane.

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  • My friend Charlotte Chang introduced me to Time Out and pointed me to your blog for suggested settings. I found it quite useful while I was using it on Friday, although “distracting” — but I guess that is the point.

    I wanted to look at your settings, but the screenshots are small and don’t show a zoomed view when I click on them. They just link back to this page. Is something wrong with some javascript somewhere? (I’m using Mac, Google Chrome)

  • Jonathan Berger

    Sorry about that; I’ve re-jiggered the photos so the settings are easier to see. If you end up using Time Out, I’d love to hear what you think of it after a week or two.

  • Bill Ramsey

    I’ve also found Time Out useful to keep me focused on what I really want to accomplish. Every 30 minutes, it pops up instantly, and I ask myself: “is this the most important thing I can be working on?”

    It’s easy to get lost in the game of problem solving whack-a-mole, and Time Out reminds me to question if I’m even playing the right game.

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